Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue

I read this book for last month’s parenting book club. It’s a parenting guide for the gender-typical parent of gender-typical kids, who want to learn to be aware of, and to minimize, the impact of limiting stereotypes on their sons and daughters. Stereotypes that are limiting include boys being unemotional or un-nurturing, and girls being bad at math (among MANY others). My wife and is somewhat gender-atypical (i.e., she doesn’t adhere to many feminine-stereotypes), so a lot of the warnings in this book around boxing girls into a female-stereotype box weren’t issues for us – our kid gets lots of stereotype-myth-busting experiences in our family. However, the book is also just so chock full of information that even we got some useful stuff from it, and I enjoyed reading it.


Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes

In a nutshell, this book is about parenting with an awareness of gender stereotypes. The title suggests that it’s about raising kids without gender stereotypes, but the author acknowledges that this scenario isn’t often practical (this is why I say it’s a book for gender-typical parents and children, for whom breaking gender norms is optional). Using a lot of statistics, the author gives you some really solid, well defended, reasons why yours kids are better off without being forced into a set of gender expectations. You won’t feel judged for letting your daughter wear pink or for enrolling your son in sports over music, but you will be reminded (or enlightened) of the very reasonable reasons for also enrolling your daughter in sports and letting your son have a doll.

The statistics are presented in an easy to comprehend way, but there’s also an entire chapter for the more technically inclined reader which describes effect sizes and experimental method. This chapter allows readers with and without a background in research and statistics to understand why the research can be trusted over the myths and misconceptions.

One criticism I have for the book is that the author uses the term gender where sex would be more appropriate. Gender is a social construct that develops as children gain a sense of identity, but Brown refers to gender as something you know about your newborn. I think this label was just used to assuage the masses – many people seem more comfortable using the term gender, rather than sex, for their little ones. There also isn’t much discussion about gender non-conforming or non-binary kids, but these kids do get an honourary mention in several chapters.

I’ll leave you with one big take-home message that I personally got from reading this book. As a society and as parents, we place too much importance on gender as a category. Kids (and adults) are already aware that males and females are different from one another, and there’s no need to highlight that as parents. Although I’m extremely conscious of gender stereotypes and of problems with dividing people into us-vs-them groups, the book reminded me that I point out my daughter’s gender on a regular basis when I say things like “you’re such a strong girl!” Yeah, I’m saying something feminist, challenging gender stereotypes that girls aren’t strong, but I’m highlighting her gender. Since reading, I’ve been calling her a kid rather than a girl. She will know her gender without me repeating it to her in every other address. When I read her books that include pictures of children, I’ve also stopped describing them as girls or boys, and instead say, “see the kid there playing with the ball?” It’s perhaps a subtle gesture, but by removing some of the importance on sex differences, we can open doors to our children to create, or at least see, a world less focused on the differences between men and women. We’ll make the world a better place by raising young people who interact like one group rather than divide themselves into unnecessary categories that compete and clash and foster such evils as toxic masculinity and violence toward women and non-binary folks.

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Simplicity Parenting, a review 

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I started drafting this review back in March. Then I fell off the book club bandwagon. I missed the meeting where we discussed this book, and the next book… But I’m back on track for July. And I did read Simplicity Parenting, so I thought I’d make a brief review post about it now. Better late than never. 
In a tiny nutshell, this book is about reading your child’s bad behaviour – or acting out – as a sign that they are emotionally unwell, attributing that to being overstimulated, overburdened, overworked, and treating the root of the problem by simplifying their life. The author has a background in education and psychology, and seems to have a lot of experience backing his ideas. But to me, this is just one more parent with big ideas about the right versus the wrong way to raise your kids. 

That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, or that the message didn’t speak to me. I happen to agree with the author on a lot of things. But I have added this book and it’s ideas to a shelf in my mind that I draw from occasionally when I want to try something new with my parenting. I don’t believe that this approach to parenting will solve all of every child’s problems. But it’s worth a try if you’re interested. 

So what’s this guy pushing, anyway? He’s pushing a simplified lifestyle so your kids have the mental space to work out some heavy developmental stuff. The obvious area to simplify is tangible clutter, like toys. While the book also goes into detail on how you can simplify the rhythm of daily life and your child’s involvement in extracurriculars, it seems easiest to start with the toys. I liked the advice on simplifying toys because we already keep things simple in the toy department (I always love reading things that affirm my beliefs). The authors suggest cutting your child’s toys in half, and then in half again. You should be left with no more than a dozen that are accessible at any given time (the rest that aren’t complete junk can go in a toy library). 

When I read the section on toys, it inspired me to find some images of “good” toys, which the book defines as toys that inspire imaginative play and don’t overwhelm the senses. Here are some ideas:

Where the book goes too far: Simplifying sensory stimulation from light and taste

There are two suggestions in the book that I found a little absurd. One was to cut back on excess artificial light. I’m aware of the science of sleep and it’s suggestion to cut out TV and other blue lights before bed and during sleep, but the author went as far as to suggest using candles after dusk and before dawn, sharing that he eats breakfast with his daughter in the dark winter mornings by nothing but candle light. Too extreme for me. I did get inspiration, though, from the idea of letting your kid have a candle lit bath (exercise safety, please!) I think my 9 month old would love this experience before bed.

Another section that didn’t convince me was the section on simplifying food. Yes, the examples given of cheese Doritos and sugary sodas are unhealthy and may make whole foods like carrots seem bland and uninteresting in comparison, but the point made in the book went further than that. The author argued that “food is meant to nourish, not entertain and excite”. I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive experiences. While I agree with not letting your kids consume too much additives/artificial flavours/over-processed foods for health reasons, I don’t buy into the idea that eating Doritos will overwhelm their senses or make them never want to eat a carrot again. I believe that cooking with and for kids can be exciting. In my opinion, the author was just looking for a way to include as many daily practices as possible into his list of things that can be fixed with his theory of simplicity parenting.

Overall, I’d recommend giving the book a read if a) you can score a copy for free from the library, and b) you think your child might be suffering from overstimulation. Otherwise, the concepts are obvious enough to try out without following the book’s outline to a T. You can test out simplifying life by purging some toys, cutting down on extra curriculars, and working less / doing less so you can spend quality down time together as a family.

The good thing about the book is that it allows for parents to pick and choose the changes they want to make in their families. Although I’m not the expert here, it really doesn’t seem like Simplicity Parenting has to be an all-or-nothing life overhaul in order to show some effect on your kid’s stress levels.

So whether you read the book or not, and whether you’re trying to solve behaviour problems or not, it might be worth testing out some simplifications in your child’s life. The book is a sufficient but uneccesary guide to do so.